Dusten Brown and his daughter Veronica pet geese in their yard in Nowata, Oklahoma. (Suzette Brewer)

Supreme Court Rules 5-4 In Favor of Capobiancos in Baby Veronica Case


Today the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of granting custody of 3-year-old Veronica to the non-Indian couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina. Now the case will head back into South Carolina family courts, which will determine Veronica's placement. She has been living with her biological father, Dusten Brown, in Nowata, Oklahoma, since December 2011.

The case, formally known as Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is one of the most important Indian legal battles of the last generation, and the implications it may have on the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act  are potentially devastating.

“It would undo [over] 35 years of work on the Indian Child Welfare Act,” Chrissi Nimmo, the counsel of record for the Cherokee Nation, told Indian Country Today Media Network in April 2013. “Any adverse decision would impact every tribe in the country. There’s no doubt.”

Prior to Veronica’s birth, Christina Maldonado, the non-Indian biological mother, had agreed to pre-adoptive placement with the Capobiancos without consulting Brown. The Capobiancos were never legally eligible to adopt Veronica, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and they paid Maldonado $10,000 and other expenses for Veronica.

In two courts, Brown successfully sued to regain custody of Veronica under the Indian Child Welfare Act. On December 28, 2011, the South Carolina Appellate Court ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act trumped South Carolina state law, stating that the Brown family has a “deeply embedded relationship” with their Cherokee heritage. On July 26, 2012, a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling upheld the appellate court’s decision to give Brown full parental rights to Veronica. 

Read The Fight for Baby Veronica Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 for in-depth coverage. More reports will come today including reactions from Indian country.

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Amelia's picture
Submitted by Amelia on
This makes me sick. Child trafficking with the help of the US Supreme Court.

Erin's picture
Submitted by Erin on
I'm stunned and angry with the court. Obviously they were deeply divided in the case. I'd like to read the dissenting opinions... this is just ridiculous.

WinterElk's picture
Submitted by WinterElk on
The potential here is that she has been living with her "father" for two years. All her memories are with that situation. To take her and give her to strangers may well cause a serious, emotion injury.

maisie 's picture
Submitted by maisie on
This poor child will have to be ripped from the people she lives with since 2011 and given to strangers. If her father has custody why is this still going to court. Horrendous.

DJ's picture
Submitted by DJ on
When did the father request a blood card. Veronica can only apply for a blood card after the father has obtained one and she has to then apply. Therefore the comment on Veronica a member of the Cherokee Nation may not be forthright. Why would Veronica's father who legally wavied all his rights during mother's pregnancy wait for TWO years to all of a sudden show up and decide he wants to be a dad....Really. This child is a human being and will always have her heritage of Cherokee and be able to engage in her heritage as an adopted child raised in a loving family. She can request her blood card if she truly is? Her dad's blood line is 3/128th, and he has to prove that one of his parents has a direct Cherokee blood line that goes all the way to the DAWES roles and with his blood showing 3/128th that is very questionable and now there is Veronica who is now a split off of that supposed 3/128th. South Carolina only ruled in father's case in begining was due to the ICWA, that has been overruled by the US Supreme Court, therefore South Carolina will now most likely reinstate the adopted parents rights per the ruling of the US Supreme Court. We need to stop tossing this innocent little girls life around as if she were a commodity. The adoptive parents could be sympathic and once she is back in their home, give permission for Veronica once or maybe couple times a year to visit her heritage and engage in their rituals to help her learn her heritage.

Malby's picture
Submitted by Malby on
You left out the part about the father abandoning his parental rights. And if the Capobiancos never had a legal right to adopt (?), why did the Supreme Court remand the case to South Carolina?

Cookie Clark's picture
Cookie Clark
Submitted by Cookie Clark on
If it is what is best for the child, regardless of race...who should have a problem with it if God doesn't?

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Unfortunately, the current Supreme Court is conservative and tribes need to understand that they are wards of the federal government. The piece here is accountability, so stop sugar coating the image of the father. He learned a valuable lesson.

Linda Torres's picture
Linda Torres
Submitted by Linda Torres on
The ICWA give Tribal Nations absolute decision making rights over placement of Native American Children. There should be cooperation between the courts and recognition of Native nations as sovereign nations. You wouldn't go into another country and circumvent their laws. It's important to recognize this right for Tribal Nations.

Truly Wunnerful Peep's picture
Truly Wunnerful Peep
Submitted by Truly Wunnerful Peep on
@Cookie Cutter Clark Nutter: There is no god, for starters. Secondly, who are YO U to determine what is best for someone else's child? You aren't, so get out of it.

chahta ohoyo's picture
chahta ohoyo
Submitted by chahta ohoyo on
just a mess....we are in the same situation in texas...in the eyes of the 'court' it wouldnt matter what is in the minor child of any race's best interest..it totally does not matter who the child has lived and grown up with, that minor child will go to a surviving parent, no matter if the child has never lived with that parent, or parents were divorced, estranged, etc....

mcadwell's picture
Submitted by mcadwell on
I also feel the court's decision is ridiculous. I hope the grandparents get in on the act and petition for custody as well. The child should be with her father.

nyctimene's picture
Submitted by nyctimene on
DJ - The father did not wait for two years. I see this comment a lot and people like you clearly do not understand the situation or the speed of courts. He was deployed for an entire year. That brings it down to one year that he was gone. You do realize that you can have months between court visits, right? The timeline on this case shows that it's moved pretty fast but they're still only averaging about one 'verdict' a month and the case keeps being bounced around between different states and different courts in each state. It took months and months of fighting in court for him to win custody, at which point Veronica was two years old at that time. It didn't mean he wasn't fighting since before that. It meant that it takes months and years to actually get a solid verdict and until he got that verdict Veronica stayed where she was...with the Capobiancos. He did not wait and simply show up at two and pick her up from their house one day, as you try to claim. You also don't seem to understand the damage that adoption does to a child's original culture. Just because you may not feel that Veronica is FN or entitled to anything doesn't mean it's true. When you are adopted your new family can move thousands of miles away from all traces of your original culture. I was Veronica. I was adopted in the 1980s by a non-FN family who moved from an inland area to a coastal area where none of the same tribes even existed. They can change your name, adding more difficulty. The mere fact of *being* adopted and often having to try and track down paperwork (for legal reasons) from agencies that tend not to keep documents or be helpful or make you jump through dozens of loopholes to get your own information makes it a nightmare. It can take months or even years to even get your own papers or information from them, and it also costs money most times. You're also working against your adoptive family who adopted you to be part of them, they didn't adopt you to join your culture. That makes it not only hopeless when you're a child who can't make your own phonecalls or drive yourself to events or locations, but awkward even as an adolescent when you have zero support from them. It's clear in this case that the CB family intends to raise Veronica as a white child. Every step of the way they (and their supporters) have downplayed Veronica's heritage, scoffed at it and tried to make her as latino and caucasian as possible. Veronica will be lucky to get one token event a year, if that. Adoption is one of the most destructive forces towards culture there is.